When El Bandido Yankee Tequila founders made the decision to delve into the rich and storied world of handcrafted tequila, they knew one thing for certain: Their tequila would be authentically crafted the right way with zero additives. Jim Bob Morris and Chris Chelios, co-founders of the brand, wanted the natural deliciousness of the blue weber agaves to stand on their own. And they wanted to be 100% transparent about what was or wasn’t in their tequila.
“There’s something even more special about enjoying a handcrafted tequila that you know is true to its roots,” said Jim Bob. “We didn’t want to mask our profile with even the smallest amount of additives.”
EDUCATING TEQUILA LOVERS
Once crafting was underway at El Viejito Distillery in Jalisco, we wasted no time in reaching out to the husband-wife team of Grover and Scarlet Sanschagrin. They are the founders of the Tequila Matchmaker mobile app (with 118K + users), and the first to develop an independent program in the spirits world focused on confirming if a product is indeed additive-free. On their blog (TasteTequila.com) consumers can see a list of confirmed additive-free tequila brands to help inform their buying choices.
We invited Tequila Matchmaker to visit the distillery, and in the spirit of transparency, encouraged them to inspect and test anything they wanted.
“Our goal has always been to educate and bring more transparency to tequila consumers,” said Grover, who has personally toured and inspected dozens of tequila distilleries. “Because our process is so rigorous, not many distilleries are comfortable opening their doors to us — only about 5% of all tequila brands opt to participate.”
Grover and Scarlet spent years training their palates and researching additive use in tequila before launching the program. They also spent time talking to industry insiders and master distillers to learn all the ins and outs of how tequila is made and where and how additives are incorporated.
Grover notes that tequilas that are mass produced tend to result in a more neutral tasting spirit, closer to a vodka as opposed to a spirit with a distinctive agave profile. These brands then rely on highly concentrated additives to artificially build flavors back in.
TRUTH IN LABELING
Additives are legal, and while some consumers prefer the very sweet notes (think along the lines of vanilla cake batter) from additives, everyone would benefit from more transparency in labeling, explains Grover.
Labeling on tequila brands can be confusing. Most tequila consumers don’t realize that a label of 100% blue weber agave doesn’t mean extra colors, flavors and aromas haven’t been added. As long as additives account for less than 1% by volume, a tequila can still be marketed as 100% agave and tequila makers are not required to disclose additive use on the label. Today’s additives are so concentrated and potent that even less than 1% can completely overhaul the spirit’s profile.
“El Bandido fully supports truth in labeling and preserving the centuries-old ways of making tequila,” said Chris. “If you’re splurging on a premium tequila, then you should be getting an artisanal agave spirit that’s all natural, not something that’s been rushed along and dramatically altered.”
WHEN YOU HAVE NOTHING TO HIDE
So about our inspection. We’re happy to report we passed with flying colors, due in no small part to the exceptional leadership of distillery owner Juan Eduardo, and Karina Rojo, our master distiller. We partnered with this historic distillery because of their dedication to craftsmanship and transparency.
Tequila Matchmaker spent a full day on site, and were encouraged to visit any area they wanted. Grover and Scarlet followed the full crafting process, from when the agave was delivered all the way to the bottling. They photographed and documented every step and are trained to recognize any incongruities. Sensorial tastings were conducted at various stages of production, comparing batches out of the still alongside samples of retail-purchased bottles to ensure the profile is the same.
The verdict: We’re the real deal, a confirmed additive-free tequila. We can also confirm we’ll never be in a rush to make the very best tequila. We’re taking our time, from starting with only hand harvested, fully mature agave and slow roasting it for 40 hours to taking the extra step of fully oxygenating our tequila to create an incredibly smooth finish.
Ready for a genuine artisanal tequila experience? Break out some confirmed additive-free El Bandido Yankee tequilas.